Now that everyone can create and distribute their own books, recordings, films, photographs, and art, is this the best of times for creative professionals? Or is it the worst of times?
Below are links to two videos that address these questions in slightly different ways. “PressPausePlay,” by the creative agency House of Radon, looks at how digital technology has affected filmmaking, music production, and photography. “Creative Collision: Where Do We Go From Here” was produced by Agency Access to help photographers and illustrators better understand what potential customers want.
I first learned about this video while reading the “Beyond the Lens” blog of Robert Rodriguez, Jr., a former music producer who now makes his living as a landscape photographer and photography workshop instructor. In his post entitled “The Digital Revolution and the Impact on Photography,” Rodriguez wondered how we separate the good from the great in an era in which everyone has affordable access to the tools to be an artist: “We all have access to the gear and technology, therefore getting the next best lens or camera body, or improving your HDR skills is not necessarily going to help you say something meaningful.”
In PressPausePlay, one grumpy critic complains that a lot of the work being produced and posted online is nothing more than “digital masturbation” that forces all of us to wade through a lot of garbage to find what we like.
Other commenters are less harsh, noting that “Everyone’s equally excited and afraid.” It’s wonderful that we call have the tools to express ourselves, but if we want to make a living as a creative pro, it has become much harder to break through.
The mystery of how books, records, and films are produced has disappeared, and production steps that once took months to accomplish can be done in minutes.
Personally, I agree with the observer on PressPausePlay who emphasizes that “The artist comes after the technology.” He cited Jimi Hendrix as a creative who demonstrated what could be done with an electric guitar.
I have watched many creative pros experiment with new technologies over the years. Those who have thrived have been those with a genuine curiosity about testing the limits of the new technology. They also have confidence in their vision and the perseverance to keep putting themselves and their new work out there until they connect with people who really appreciate their work.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The PR people from Agency Access called my attention to this video. Agency Access provides direct-marketing support to photographers and illustrators who don’t have the time (or desire) to actively promote themselves to the extent that it is required today.
This video was produced in response to a question raised by one of their customers: Where is the industry headed?
Kelly O’Keefe, professor at VCU Brandcenter notes that “Most enlightened creatives have an understanding that doing fewer, simpler, more impressive pieces will make your recognition grow faster than doing hundreds and hundreds of things.” He pointed out that Steve Jobs sold to Disney for $7.4 billion after Pixar had only made 6 movies—all of them hits.
“We will be best remembered as creatives based on a few great pieces and not on a huge body of work.” says O’Keefe. He urges creatives to focus time and attention on those few pieces, make them relevant, and make them stand out.
Cabell Harris of Work Labs notes that many people wonder “Where is the industry going?” But he admits that, “I don’t even know what the industry is.”
He’s not alone. Technology is transforming publishing, marketing, communications, and entertainment in ways that are both scary and exciting. So far, no one seems to know for sure what the formula for success in any of these fields will be.
Harris agrees that it’s great that every creative pro can now go into business for themselves. But, he says, “It’s important that you promote yourself, and do things that you are interested in and are proud of, and become your own judge.” He emphasizes that, “You have to be inventive, start fulfilling some needs, but you also have to have some fun. No one does good work unless they have fun at what they are doing.”